WBGO Radar

Freddie Bryant: Dreamscape

cover guitarist Freddie Bryant's Dreamscape CD

Freddie Bryant’s Dreamscape steps from a dream, but it is the dream of a remarkable, and real, life: it is a lyrical portrait, and the most complete to date, of this guitarist’s exceptional talents and growth.

The album honors Bryant’s parents, opera singers Beatrice Rippy and Carroll Hollister. Both were committed activists who frequently performed at solidarity rallies with the likes of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and brought their young son along as a page-turner.

An eleven-year-old Bryant even once attended a Young Pioneer’s camp in East Germany, where he met young people who sought refuge from Cold War conflicts in countries like Chile, South Africa and Spain.

“What I learned from my parents was to value justice, equality, and fairness to everybody, wherever we looked around the world,” says Bryant.

From the start, music was the fabric of Bryant’s awakening consciousness. His parents, especially his mother, who once toured with Cab Calloway as Serena in the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, sang spirituals at home as well as folk songs in Yiddish and Russian, arias and lieder.

“I’d come home and they’d always be practising together, or coaching other singers,” he recalls. “I was surrounded by song.”

Bryant’s own life in music took a different direction. He is highly accomplished in both classical music and jazz, and has built successful careers in both genres. But he has rarely drawn from the songs that surrounded him in his youth.

“I used to have a very idealistic notion of Liberation music, coming from Mingus, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln,” says Bryant. “But I’m the son of a singer, I play the guitar, and I don’t do music with lyrics.”

As Bryant drew together the strands that became Dreamscape, he decided to write and play songs for the project. A poem he wrote for his mother at Thanksgiving in 2012 became the inspiration for one of the album’s standouts, “Songs,” which evokes moments in African-American musical life.

Bryant also performs the spiritual “I’m Going To Tell God All Of My Troubles,” a mainstay of his parent’s repertoire, in a poignant arrangement with Chris Potter on bass clarinet. He reined in his expansive musical imagination for the project – he plays solo on eight tracks, as duo on three with either Potter or bassist Scott Colley, and as a trio for the remaining three.

“I could imagine how sensitive and interactive they’d want to be,” he says of Potter and Colley. “They’re not just about playing rings around everything; they really listen.”

This pared-down approach contrasts with Bryant’s longstanding Kaleidoscope project, which has at times has included as many as three horns, piano and percussion. The group’s most recent album, 2012’s Live Grooves, Epic Tales, features long, drum-oriented grooves of nine minutes or more.

“I knew I wanted to do something at a smaller scale,” says Bryant.

Most of the pieces on Dreamscape were written by Bryant specifically for this trio, who recorded to 2-inch tape at Avatar Studios in Manhattan in January of 2013. A handful of standards – Mingus’s “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” Monk’s “Ask Me Now," Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and two Brazilian classics – were arranged by him for the occasion.

The disc also features two remarkable classical reimaginings by Bryant of works written by bassist  Charlie Haden: “Fantasia On A Theme By Charlie Haden: For Turiya” and “Silence.”

To close the disc, we hear Rippy and Hollister play for us from across the years, with their own version of “I’m Going To Tell God All Of My Troubles,” recorded live at Lincoln Center in 1974. The nine-year-old Freddie is onstage, turning pages.

“She would always have humming in her performances, when she was singing,” Bryant recalls. “If she was in Lincoln Center, you’d still hear this hum as a gentle, beautiful thing.”

Bryant, with family and friends, will celebrate the CD's release at Smalls in New York on March 31 from 7:30 to 10 p.m., with Craig Handy on reeds and Doug Weiss on bass.

Here are the verses Bryant gave his mother forThanksgiving in 2012:

When a mother sings

She breathes life into a child

Life she already gave within

Through pain, hardship and struggle

Our first lesson in survival

She sings spirituals that show us how

That speak of a power so great

Yet can never be seen

Tales that are stronger in song

Than words in a book that can’t be written

They’re bound by her voice

That is the essence of music

Sung and gone and always there

Like the Qi she gives now in melody

Invisible song

As she holds you infinitely

As a memory in your soul

Her soul she gave

With a map to the North Star

A life force from food to spirit

A small ball of energy

That grows and learns to walk a difficult path

That ultimately must be

A journey to Joy


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  - Tim WIlkins, WBGO digital content producer


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